What are the legal stipulations to flying a Drone at night?
Both the FAA and CAA require special permits to fly at what is called Night’ time flying conditions. You will be required by the FAA-107 Waiver, which has very specific rules and guidelines to be followed. It also takes up to 90 days to receive this permission. The 107 Waiver is operated under the understanding that you’re temporarily permitted to fly your drone past daylight hours. The CAA only requires commercial and business drone pilots to have what is called the PFCO (Permission for Commercial Operations).
Since there are many legal rules for flying a drone in the daytime, these laws must be observed accordingly.
But when it comes to flying a drone at night, it becomes more complicated. To answer the question: Can I
fly a drone at night as a hobbyist? The answer is Yes and No because the legality issue always needs to be addressed. No matter where you live, the issue of Airspace is always regulated. In the US, airspace is controlled by the FAA, and in the UK is governed by the CAA. Both authorities have very similar rules for what is considered flying at night. The main rule is flying 30 minutes after sunset and 30 minutes before sunrise.
Both of these do not entitle an operator to fly their drone in total darkness since the drone will be much
harder to spot. This must also be carried out under visual sightlines of your drone and anything near-to your
drone. The US has strict laws that concern VLOS (Visual Line of Sight) and the UK has VFR (Visual Flight
Rules). For this reason, your drone must be equipped with additional LED lights so it will be easier to spot.
Not just by you and other low-flying flying aircraft or drones, but also for VOs (Visual Observers) in the
Legally, every drone pilot must have a valid flying license to operate their drone. Each drone is required to
be connected to the internet so that the FAA and CAA can monitor its’ flight. If a specific law is broken,
these flight authorities can issue a fine and notify the police to make an arrest. Fines have been known to
start at 1000 USD and climb to as much as 5000 USD. The latter example is when federal airspace rules are
violated, however, most FAA violators will end-up settling through a lawyer. Most fines are settled by
paying half of the amount and a strict slap on the wrist.
Related Article: What Happens if you don’t register your drone
How to fly a Drone at Night and what to expect?
Aside from the legal aspects of flying a UAV, it’s important that having additional spotters with radio
communication. Having at least 1-2 VOs (Visual Observers) is an additional visual aid that helps you to
track your drone in-flight. There are additional rules that must be followed when a night flight is achieved and performed. These can assist with what is called ‘Night Illusions’ that can impair sunset and sunrise light
• Autokinesis aka (Phantom Motion)
This is when the operator has fixated on their UAV for long periods, making it appear their object is moving.
Drivers who stare too long at the road while driving in their car will experience a similar effect. An object
may appear to be moving when it’s standing still.
• Fascination aka (Fixation)
This is when an operator has ignored their focal orientation of landmarks and fixed visual sights. Their focus
remains too long on their drone losing the ability to judge UAV movement or positioning locations.
• Flicker Vertigo
The flashing lights that are used on a drone can cause physical disorientation for the operator. These can
include nausea and dizziness due to the lack of adequate lighting. This is not common for a daytime UAV
flight since you aren’t focusing on a blinking dot.
• Reverse Perspective Illusion
Lack of daytime light can lead to the inability to judge if your drone is moving forwards or backward. This
light illusion is caused by flashing LED lights that make it harder to determine where your drone is headed.
• Size-Distance Illusion
In twilight conditions, a dark object in the sky is always harder to spot and judging its’ distance. Adding
LED lights are helpful but can make a drone appear closer than it appears. Only the operator display
will give a true distance and altitude location.
What types of night jobs’ can be done with a drone?
As a hobbyist flyer, the activities are typically for entertainment purposes. This includes video and
photography of landscapes and outdoor functions involving people. Getting a great shot of the sunset or
sunrise on a wedding is one possible job idea. An outdoor concert at dusk is another way to catch a
spectacular view of an event as well. It’s not limited to real estate advertisements where the view of a house
and property can be highlighted. When it comes to sports or recreational games, sunset images help sell
Many extreme sports enthusiasts are using drones to document next to impossible video shots that handheld videographers cannot perform. This can include skiing, skateboarding, snowboarding, and cycling. These
extended jobs aren’t limited to documenting entertainment since natural disasters can also be studied. The
dramatic view of a flash flood or the aftermath of an earthquake might be poor taste, but not off-the-table. A
hobbyist can get a better view of a forest fire or tsunami if the operator is extra careful.
Just as long as the safety of others is observed, your drone should be flown around visible people and
crowds. The importance of privacy is also important to avoiding police being called so it’s also easier when
you’re in wide-open areas. Since the hobbyist level does not include total darkness for flying, you risk
crossing into commercial and business territories. These are reserved for those who are using special night
vision equipment and thermal cameras. Once again the vast number of fines and penalties can be heavy.
Hopefully, this helps to answer how can I fly a drone at night as a hobbyist? Using your UAV safely starts
with observing every FAA and CAA license rule and regulation they require. Common sense about avoiding
any night illusions can further be stemmed from your visual observer crew. Ultimately as an operator, you
are the sole person responsible if anything goes wrong. So always take caution if you decided you want to
fly your drone at night.